New Brunswick

Small wonder: How a village helped raise one of N.B.'s tiniest preemies

Amanda Robichaud was a province away from her home and family when she gave birth to her micro-preemie son. What she didn't know was that her entire community was mobilizing, with family, friends and even strangers rallying to help her.

When Amanda Robichaud went into labour at 23 weeks, her community rallied behind her and has never stopped

Amanda Robichaud with her son, Logan, and their puppy, Big Buddy, in Baie-Sainte-Anne in August. (Horizon Health Network)

Amanda Robichaud sees herself as a bubbly, easygoing person, quick to laugh, quick to see silver linings in difficult situations.

She recalls the day that she unexpectedly went into labour, calmly, with no hint of the alarm she must have felt.

"I wasn't feeling well so I went to the hospital and they said, 'OK, you're dilated. We're going to send you to Halifax to have the baby because, you know, you're a little bit early.'"

She was 23 weeks into her pregnancy at the time, and well aware of the risks that posed. 

But there was no point panicking about it, Robichaud thought. What will be will be.

Her husband, a snow crab fisherman, was away at sea and her mother had to stay with her two girls.

Newborn Logan's tiny hand wraps around his mom's finger. Born at 23 weeks, Logan weighed 590 grams, or about 1.3 pounds. (Submitted by Amanda Robichaud)

'Nothing can prepare you for that'

Robichaud went to the hospital by herself. Went into the delivery room alone. Gave birth alone.

But when she saw her newborn for the first time — here, Robichaud's bubbliness falters. 

"Uh … well," she says, her voice catching. "It wasn't a fun experience. I fainted."

The doctors had prepared her as best they could. The nurses too.

"They said he was going to be small, that he would be red, they talked about what I would want if, you know, things didn't go so well."

But the reality of her tiny, 590-gram (1.3-pound) infant, his eyelids still fused closed, fighting for every breath, every hour, was overwhelming. 

"Nothing can prepare you for that," she said. 

Robichaud was a province away from her family, facing weeks, even months, of touch-and-go situations and critical decisions on her own. She girded herself for what lay ahead and "just went into survival mode."

What she didn't know was that, back home, her entire community in Richibucto Village was mobilizing, with family, friends and even strangers rallying at every level to help her.

"You know that saying it takes a village?" Robichaud says. 

This is that village. 

Community mobilizes to help their neighbour

The Kent County settlement of Richibucto Village is small. "Like, small," Robichaud says with a chuckle. "A church, a corner store, that's it. You blink and you miss it."

It's also a place where everybody knows everybody.

So everybody knew that Robichaud had given birth prematurely, that her husband was away, that she'd need to be in Halifax for weeks to care for her tiny newborn son. 

And everybody knew there were things that needed to be done. 

First, there were the Robichauds' daughters, home alone with both parents away.

Robichaud's mother stepped in to help when she wasn't working, and a friend's teenage daughters moved right into the Robichauds' home to help. 

They'd get the girls ready for school, make their lunches, get off the school bus with them and spend the night.

Robichaud's sisters reached out to local businesses, who put donation tins on their counters to raise funds to help the family with expenses.

This went on for months, allowing Robichaud and her husband, when he returned from work, to spend time with their tiny newborn in Halifax and Moncton hospitals.

But when Robichaud finally brought her baby home four months later, the neighbourhood support network took things up a notch.

Neighbours brought in meals. Neighbourhood teens came by to help in any way they could.

A local photographer arranged a free baby photo session.

Staff at her daughters' school would call to let them know if there were any signs of flu or illness in their class, mindful of the urgency of keeping their home as germ-free as possible.

The health centre in nearby Rexton arranged to have her baby weighed there every other day to spare them the long trek to the hospital. 

"Just all these really nice things," Robichaud said. "So many people helped, everyone just kinda pitched in. It was amazing."

Two-year-old logic: I have two hands, so I might as well have two ice cream cones. (Submitted by Amanda Robichaud)

Bringing up baby

When Robichaud finally got permission to take her tiny infant home, now weighing about five pounds, she was by herself in the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

"They just came into the room and said, 'OK, you can bring him home today.' I was like, really? Aaaaah!"

Robichaud hadn't bought a crib yet, hadn't bought anything, really. 

"I didn't want to buy a lot of stuff in case it didn't work out," she said.

A quick shopping spree later and baby Logan, nattily attired in a tuxedo made for a small stuffed teddy bear, was on his way home to his village.

There were months of us living in a bubble. The way people are living now for COVID-19? That was our life.- Amanda Robichaud on early days at home with Logan

There was no homecoming party — "Flu season was just starting so we couldn't risk that" — but the neighbourhood continued to support the Robichauds, lending a hand any way it could.  

"There were months of us living in a bubble. The way people are living now for COVID-19? That was our life," Robichaud said.

It was more than a year before Logan was strong enough that Robichaud would even consider going back to work.

Even then, the help continued.

"I met a woman here in the village who became like an aunt to him," Robichaud said. "She became his caregiver, she took him in and babysat while I took my LPN course. They're still really close, like even today she was here visiting."

And of course, throughout all of it, there was a team of health-care staff — "here in New Brunswick, and in Halifax, they have been so wonderful" — providing medical care and advice and moral support.

There were a few years of living under the radar, Robichaud said, but it worked.

Now six years old and in Grade 1, Logan is in good health, has no underlying medical conditions, has never needed glasses and has had no major surgeries, something Horizon Health Network says is "exceptional" for such a premature baby.

"It took him a long time to get caught up, like you'd expect from a micro preemie, but he had a lot of intervention and he's there now," Robichaud said. 

"He plays hockey, karate, he loves four-wheeling and being outside, and he really loves school."

He has some characteristics of autism, such as sensitivity to loud noises, but other than that, Robichaud said, he's pretty much like any other six-year-old boy.

As if on cue, a ruckus breaks out in the background and Robichaud pauses to intervene.

"There, see what I mean?" she said with an easy laugh. "He's fighting with his sister right now."

Logan gets a cuddle from his sister, Emma. (Submitted by Amanda Robichaud)

Advice for other moms of preemies

The past six years have taught Robichaud a lot.

Already an upbeat  person by nature, she has a new respect for the power of positivity and the ability to "go with the flow."

Asked for her advice to moms of micro preemies — babies born before 26 weeks — she says this is the foundation she relied on. 

"It's not day by day, it's not even hour by hour," she said. "Be ready to take things minute by minute. Talk to your nurses and ask questions, because they've seen it all before and they'll be your best educators. Oh, and very important: don't Google anything!"

She has been so inspired by the health-care workers who have been a part of her family's life for six years now that she studied to become a licensed practical nurse. 

And she has gained an even deeper appreciation for the close-knit community she lives in.

From the staff at health-care centres and schools to the neighbours who have become like family, "they have been here for us in every way," Robichaud said. 

New Brunswickers take such community caring for granted because "that's how things are here," she said.

"But not everybody has this, and I can't imagine how I could have gone through this anywhere else. I could never have done it without them." 

About the Author

Marie Sutherland is a web writer with CBC New Brunswick based in Saint John. You can reach her at marie.sutherland@cbc.ca.

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